13-year-old Iqram Babs Lawal is proof that curiosity does not always kill the cat. Or the girl as clearly is the case here. Born with an inquisitive mind, she was intrigued by mobile and web apps and interested in finding out what makes them tick.
In primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, the concept of exposing children to tech skills is still relatively new. Coding, programming languages, web and mobile apps are catching on more due to tech initiatives like Teens Can Code and The StemBelle.
Google was the first friend Iqram turned to with the question, “How do I make a mobile app?” There were many options, and “It took a while before I found Appy Pie which I used to learn how to build mobile apps at first,” Iqram told this reporter in an interview sanctioned by her guardians.
Still, it did not expose Iqram to coding and the search continued until she found Khan Academy. She said, “I liked the interface so much because it was colourful. Even a 2-year-old would want to play around the site.”
Now very proficient at coding, the Junior Secondary (JSS) 3 student has selected machine learning as her preferred career of choice.
Uneasy lies the hand that wants to code
Coding is no easy-peasy endeavour and it presents a unique assortment of challenges to a schoolgirl who is serious about it. Balancing coding with the ever-present school work, getting money for data to take online courses and actually understanding the courses being taught are just some of the challenges that Iqram faces.
But she has very good support systems. Most notable of them are her parents and brother who have encouraged and supported her growth.
“I have my priorities right,” she says. And in that hierarchy of priorities, from Mondays to Fridays are for academics while weekends are for programming. However, on weekends when there is still schoolwork to do, her coding takes the backseat.
Similar to what young people venturing into tech face during their pursuit, paying for resources is a challenge that Iqram constantly faces in learning tech skills. As a student, she is dependent on her parents which means that the internet and equipment needs are borne by them.
She says, “I save as much as I can and I apply for giveaways when I can so that I can ease some of the financial burden.”
When young tech enthusiasts attend meetups, they sometimes write codes on paper because they either do not have a laptop, cannot install software on the ones they have, or do not have good internet access. People who are dogged enough find a way of running the codes on friends’ laptops at the earliest opportunity and continue their learning.
The high cost of data adds a financial burden on young people and their guardians. Since accessing the internet is a perpetual need, it is a cost that will always crop up again and again.
Most coding tutors online do not have young people like her in mind and sometimes, it takes a lot of time to understand what the teacher is trying to pass across. When the tutor is a foreigner, accents, talking speed and the teacher’s choice of words can sometimes put the adolescent student at a disadvantage.
While these challenges reveal how far the young techies are willing to go, making resources like laptops, good internet and quality training accessible in schools will help them in their growth.
Iqram also strongly believes that adding excursions and visits to tech companies to the list of a school’s activities will expose more young people to tech earlier. “Not all of us have to code but if we go on excursions to tech companies, it will help us to see what happens in tech and how the things we see are built,” Iqram added.
Notwithstanding the challenges, being one more girl in tech inspires Iqram and keeps her going. Her desire is that somewhere down the line, she will also be instrumental in helping young people who are interested in tech to find their footing in the space as well.